Tag Archives: fried food

Puerto Rican Salt Cod Fritters – Bacalaitos

In Puerto Rico cod fritters, or bacalaitos, are a quintessential party food.  Wildly popular, these fritters are even sold at the beach.  Right on the sand are wooden shacks with tin roofs, some with a few tables, some only serving take out.  Typically salsa is blasting at full volume while a stiff ocean breeze tempts bathers with the perfume of garlic and culantro.  If you spy a cook working behind her bubbling pot still in her house coat with pink foam curlers in her hair, hips swaying in tune with the music, I strongly suggest you stop there to eat!  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, summers and holidays, these fritters were not often served.  In those days my family was suspicious of any street food and would have been horrified if we had even asked for a bite.  My grandparents felt anything worth ingesting was just as good or better at home.  And that would have been fine except we never had bacalaitos at home.  Why, I don’t know… because they’re bad for you? (They ARE fried!)  Nevertheless, on outings with uncles, aunts and cousins, we were often rewarded for good behavior at the end of day with a little fried something.

Probably the only photograph with Mama and all my siblings at the beach.  It makes me so happy that Mama had on her pearls to go to the beach!

Big doin’s for me when the treat happened to be cod fritters.  I don’t know why they’re called “fritters” as they’re not the shape of, say, apple fritters or conch fritters… they’re not rounded in shape but flat…like a cookie.  Crispy on the outside but tender and chewy on the inside, these “frituras” were served hot out of the fat and wrapped in a paper napkin.  Sometimes, if we happen to be in a really upscale shack, the fritters were loosely wrapped in a napkin then tucked into a small, brown paper bag.  We tossed the napkins and let the paper bag soak up the excess oil while savoring every salty nugget of bacalao, cod, studded throughout the fritter.  Tanned, barefooted and covered with beach sand is how I like to remember enjoying this street food!



Puerto Rican Cod Fritters

  • Servings: 25 fritters
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

  • 1 pound salt cod, deboned and soaked in cold water 8-12 hours, changing the water several time to get rid of the salt
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 10-12 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bunch culantro (approximately .75 ounces) or 20 leaves, ripped into 2″ pieces
  • 2 3/4 cups broth from the cod.  You’ll be boiling the fish briefly so don’t throw the broth out!
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour plus additional if needed
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • vegetable oil
  1. Discard the water the cod has soaked in and place the fish in a pot covered with 1″ of fresh, cold water.  Bring the water to a boil and cook the fish for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Remove the fish from the broth and set aside to cool.  Reserve the broth for later in the recipe.
  3. While the cod is cooling, add the garlic, peppercorns and culantro to a food processor or blender and process until you almost have a paste.  If the ingredients stick and won’t process, add a tablespoon or two of the fish broth and continue processing.
  4. When the cod is cool enough to handle, gently pull the fish apart with your hands.  You want it chunks in your fritters as opposed to a feathery mess.
  5. In a separate large bowl combine the flour and baking powder.
  6. Mix the broth into the flour by hand.  The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter.  If too thin, add a bit more flour.  If too thin, add a little more broth but, in either case, not too much.
  7. To the flour/broth mixture add the flaked cod and the garlic/culantro mixture and mix well by hand.
  8. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so to let the baking powder do its job.
  9. In a heavy-bottomed frying pan or pot, pour in vegetable oil until it reaches 1″ on the sides.  Heat the oil on high.
  10. When the oil is hot and “shimmers” spoon 1/4 cup into the pan making 3-4 fritters, depending on the size of your pan.  You don”t want to crowd them.  If the fritters are browning too fast drop the heat down to medium-high.
  11. Fry each fritter 3-4 minutes or until golden, turning only once.
  12. Drain the fritters on a paper bag or paper towels.  If you want to be truly authentic, thread each fritter through the middle with a metal skewer and hang across a large pot allowing the oil to drain to the bottom of the pot.
  13. Serve immediately or keep warm in a very low oven.



Cornmeal Parmesan Fingers, Sorullitos

I was talking with my friend, Harriette Keen Jacobs, about a garden shed she had seen that looked like a faerie house.  Harriette is a phenomenal writer; she has a blog also called South of the Gnat Line.  Check it out.  She’s positively gorgeous, well, yeah, she IS a Southern girl and has a farm in Georgia with many little lambs and fuzzy chicks and all manner of cute and quirky critters running around.  Anyway, long after we stopped  dreaming of the miniature faerie-house garden shed I thought of someone who actually had a tiny magic house.  My cousin in Puerto Rico, Myrnita, had a Lilliputian play house that was every little girl’s dream.  She’s the oldest of five but only her younger brother had been born during the years we played house.  Her brother, Robertito, was all boy and nothing to do with us girls.  He hid behind palms and tropical vines wearing cowboy boots, guns and holsters and played cowboys and indians.  Myrnita’s a year or two younger than me and was the perfect summer playmate.  Sometimes we would go to their country club and spend the day swimming and driving the lifeguards crazy by running around the pool in order to execute the perfect cannonball.  Other times her handsome father, my uncle Tio Roberto, would pick me up in his big, old boat of a car and we would go to their house for a playdate.  After the customary exchange of kisses and hugs of everyone in the house Myrnita and I would ask her mama, my Titi Myrna, if we could have some supplies for the little house.  We had some cooking to do.  My aunt was stunningly beautiful, gentle and loving.  She never laughed at us or scolded us if we made a mess or spilled any of our ingredients as we tramped through the house.  We discussed our pretend menu with her and she gathered the necessary ingredients.  Well, most of them.  It was pretend cooking outside so we weren’t allowed things like eggs.  Or butter.  But we could take as much uncooked rice as we wanted and dried beans.  Bread was fine to play with and we always had snacks like Sorrullitos, little salty cornmeal fingers hot out of the fat that Titi Myrna had just made for us to take outside.  Sorrullitos made our pretend play more real.  When you bit into them you could hear the snap of the crackling outer crust.  Oh, and fruit.  We could take bananas, oranges, guavas, any fresh fruit still in its skin and then we’d take it all back in when we were finished “cooking”.  So, out we’d go to the playhouse arms laden with our real and play food.  The playhouse was made of wood and had a front porch.  That still slays me.  A front porch.  I want a porch!  At any rate, it was painted white with Carolina blue trim and a tile roof.  God, I loved that little house.  It had a real door that opened and closed and windows that were protected from the torrential rains and the searing rays of the sun by blue shutters which locked with a toggle from the inside.  We’d throw those shutters open and the pretend party would begin!  The playhouse was just one room but it had cabinets, counters and a pretend stove.  The cabinets were all stocked with a plethora of plastic bowls, spoons and spatulas.  There were two small chairs with cane seats and a small table up against a wall for our imaginary banquet.  And she had a play refrigerator.  The sun beat down upon that little house but the cool Caribbean breezes kept us happy and relaxed.  The hours just sped by as we stirred our simmering meals and played grownup.  It had always been planned that I would spend the night.   My clothes had already been put away in Myrnita’s bedroom by loving hands.  Tio Roberto would undoubtedly take us all out for ice cream after dinner.  Or a handmade guava pastry.  At around 6:00 in the evening the scorching sun would let up a little.  The breezes would truly start cooling us down.  I knew the routine back at my grandparent’s house.  I would have been given my bath and dinner by now.   Mama would be letting Cynthia and me play quietly, color or write letters home to Daddy.  It never failed.  That big, burning sun would start to turn all shades of pink, purple and blue and as it started its descent a wrenching homesickness would set in.  Waves of sadness would roll over my little eight year old self.  I knew I wasn’t going to stay.  Hell, no.  I wanted to go home and it was just a matter of telling my sweet, sweet uncle I needed to go home and no amount of tears from Myrnita will make me stay, okay?  I always felt awful breaking the news that their plans for the evening were not going to happen.  My aunt and uncle were very glamorous and social; they were always at black tie affairs, their pictures were always in the papers.  So I felt rotten and slightly guilty that I had ruined their family night.  But this girl was going home!  My understanding uncle would always get me back just as the sun had set, right before the tiny frogs of the island, the Coqui, began their song declaring night had truly fallen.  Back in my cotton nightgown, back to the adult’s hushed voices echoing off the high ceilings and back in Mama’s arms.  Another perfect childhood day in paradise.  Buenas noches!


Oh, Gentle Reader, these crispy little treats are positively addictive.  And dangerous.  Paired with a good sipping rum…all resolve just melts away  They are easy, inexpensive and quick to prepare.  They’re great when entertaining because they can be fried in advance and then kept warm and crunchy in the oven.  I like them also because they’re homemade but almost effortless.  You didn’t open an air-filled bag or a frost covered box to delight your friends.  No.  You, clever thing, made these by hand.  Furthermore, they marry well with mixed drinks, beer or wine.  Def a win-win in my kingdom.  A cheese called Queso de Bolla is used on the island but I really enjoy the sharpness of the Parm and I pretty much always have it on hand.  You can use a cheese other than Parmesan if you like but the nutmeg and parmesan combination strike a nutty flavored balance the like of which I know you’ll flip over.  In Puerto Rico often Sorullitos are served with a sauce that is a typically a mayo-ketchup mix.  That so grosses me out so I serve mine with a 50/50 mix of mayonnaise and Sriracha Chile Sauce.  That’s it.  Two ingredients for the dipping sauce.  We like food spicy in our house so hold back a little on the Sriracha if that ratio is too hot for your taste or if you are serving children.


Cornmeal Parmesan Fingers or Sorullitos

  • Servings: 25-30 thumb size batons
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 3/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other good parmesan cheese
  • 1 3/4 cups fine cornmeal
  • canola or vegetable oil for frying
  1. In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add nutmeg, salt and butter and then, while stirring, pour in cornmeal.
  3. Continue stirring until a soft ball forms that separates from the sides of the pot.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
  5. Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside for 10 minutes or so until cool to the touch.
  6. Form the sorullito by taking a spoonful of cornmeal and with your hands form a baton or finger.
  7. Heat two inches of oil in a frying pan until you see tiny bubbles on the bottom of the pan or the top of the oil “shimmers”.
  8. Add the batons to the oil with your hands or tongs being careful not to drop into them oil.
  9. Fry until golden brown and drain on paper towels.
  10. Fritters may be kept warm in a 300° oven.
  11. Serve with Sriracha Mayo sauce.  Just combine the sauce ingredients to taste, mix and serve.